By Juergen Kneifel
Successful small businesses know that keeping great employees and regular customers is a smart investment.
It’s less expensive to retain experienced staff members than train new ones. Regular customers are a crucial part of a business’ bottom line.
Those are lessons Sparta Pizza in Lynnwood has learned well. The Italian restaurant, which opened in 1978, was purchased by Stan Geddes from the original owners in 1989. Stan liked the business and felt it was a perfect venture to invite his son, Chuck Geddes, to build and manage.
There was certainly some risk, given that the highest category of small businesses failures within the first three years of operation has been delis and restaurants. It seems that with the significant competition and ease of entry for new upstarts, there develops an environment where only those with a winning formula can survive.
Here’s where Geddes has it down right. He has built the enterprise with a focus on people. Employees, customers and community are all very high on the list of stakeholders that need to be served.
“Our turnover is very low in comparison with industry standards,” Geddes said, noting that full-time employees qualify for medical benefits and a 401(k) plan. “We’ve worked very hard to maintain a standard that keeps our team focused and committed.”
The culture of care permeates the restaurant that Geddes attributes to his father’s history of working at Nordstrom. Many of the customer service principles from that experience have carried over into the business. Everyone on staff knows their primary role is to ensure customers are satisfied with both food and service.
Training in many small businesses is best handled through mentoring. New employees at Sparta’s are matched with an experienced lead; the intent is to help them understand procedures and expectations.
Customers are clearly impressed with this business. Oftentimes there are lines of guests waiting outside the door to be seated.
“We recently had a customer who moved out of the area 15 years ago and then returned for a visit. When the meal was finished, the customer mentioned how amazing it had been and that the meal was just as the customer remembered it,” Geddes said.
The restaurant also is committed to supporting the community, Geddes said.
“We’re often working with teachers, administrators and parent groups to ensure that we have a presence,” Geddes said. The business has supported Pacific Little League since its opening in 1978.
Sparta’s menu offers a variety of Italian favorites.
“We see our restaurant as more of a niche,” Geddes said. “We don’t do much when it comes to comparing ourselves to other Italian restaurants and pizza chains: anyone can cut back on the ingredients in order to drop a price.”
By providing consistency with the pizza and the service to customers, Sparta’s has built a rock-solid reputation with their guests.
“When we first took over the business I remember my dad saying that we could not afford to lose any customers due to changes in quality or content as it relates to recipes portions,” Geddes said. “If we do the transition just right, no one will notice that there is a change in ownership.”
With the smooth transition and successful handoff, Sparta’s opened a second restaurant in Bothell to take advantage of a growth opportunity in 1996. Taking the positive experiences of the Lynnwood location and sharing the recipe for success, both units are profitable and showing genuine business health.
There is no doubt that successful small business owners build great enterprises by developing and attending to people — employees, customers and the community.
If you believe what is posted on Sparta’s website, Sparta’s has the best pizza in the universe. Now that’s a high bar by anyone’s measure.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in the Everett Community College business program. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.